Monday, January 31, 2011
If you can find the briefing, look how many ums and uhs Gibbs uses. Look at his body language. Gibbs is hiding something or isn't in "the loop." Don't let this happen to you. Take control of your crisis. show that you are in control.
Gibbs failed at that. I, for one, have lost my confidence. I don't feel secure that Obama has his fingers on this crisis.
And while we're on the subject: Did you note that the Egyptian government acted quickly to shut down the internet, Twitter, and other social media to prevent communication? This should tell us how important these kinds of communications are all over the globe. We as business people don't have the authority to shut these communications down. But the Egyptian crisis should warn us how important social media are during a crisis. We have no control over these media, but we need to anticipate them and manage them.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Three Cheers for Taco Bell! The quality of its product has been challenged by a legal firm and a California woman whose motives remain a mystery. After a slow start,Taco Bell is aggressively challenging the accusation that its meat is only 35% beef. I applaud the proactive strategy, which may include a counter suit. It already includes on-line coupons and full-page ads in several well-read newspapers.
"But the attorney who filed the lawsuit, W. Daniel Miles III of Montgomery, Ala., declined to talk on Friday. Instead, his law firm released a statement that insisted the facts in the lawsuit are correct. 'We will try this lawsuit in the Federal Court in California, not in the press,' the statement said. (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2011-01-28-taco-bell-ads_N.htm) Miles didn't help himself with his virtual "no comment." In addition, the legal firm isn't telling who tested the meat. By the way, this referenced website has a nice video on Taco Bell's push back.
Who is this Montgomery, Alabama, legal firm, you ask? Good question. The website for Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis, and Miles claims, "Beasley Allen is comprised of over 50 attorneys and 200 support staff. Beasley Allen is a national leader in civil litigation, having settled verdicts and settlements of over $20 billion." ( http://www.beasleyallen.com/) Among its triumphs:
- $11,903,000,000 verdict involving an oil and gas case, 2007
- $4,850,000,000 settlement involving Vioxx, 2007
- $700,000,000 settlement involving PCBs, 2007
- $580,975,000 verdict in sales finance scam, 2007
- $177,000,000 settlement involving pharmaceutical, again 2007
The firm's website also has links to recalls such as:
- Jog strollers recalled due to finger laceration and amputation risk
- Teething rings recalled due to ingestion hazard
- Angioplasty device recalled due to deadly design flaw
Hey, these guys sound like the annoying lawyers who advertise on TV late at night. At first, Taco Bell came out with a statement, to paraphrase, our customers love our products and continue to buy from us. It doesn't appear the company was well-prepared to deal with a crisis affecting the quality of its brand. But I give their folks credit for recovering their fumble and advancing the ball.
Massey Energy is still at it, sans retired CEO Don Blankenship. (Remember? He's the one who threatened to shoot a reporter if he didn't leave. I have enjoyed blogging about that company and that CEO for a long time.) Now Massey is fighting to prevent civil and criminal suits connected with the Upper Big Creek mine explosion in West Virginia last year that killed 29 people. The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has a different opinion than that of the company.
"The Richmond, Va.-based coal company doesn't believe that worn shearer bits, broken water sprayers or an excessive buildup of coal dust contributed to the blast, Vice President and General Counsel Shane Harvey said.
"Instead, Massey continues to argue there was a sudden inundation of natural gases from a crack in the floor that overwhelmed what it insists were good air flow and other controls that should have contained the blast.... Massey won't issue its own report on the explosion until after state and federal investigators release theirs." (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gSp9bjBl3DwPRLcmAeXqAWnzeAJQ?docId=2c25ba01cfa74ac3a603650c2ceefc01)
Massey officials met with families of the deceased and their attorneys -- in a hotel with two men guarding the door -- to tell its side of the investigation. According to one of those family members who used to work at Upper Big Branch, "'They're really just contradicting each other,' said a frustrated Clay Mullins, whose brother Rex died in the explosion. Massey 'put on a good show and had a lot of information to discuss,' he said, '... but I would have to lean toward MSHA.'"
I have to go with Mullins on this one. According to the Associated Press, "MSHA's preliminary findings suggest worn and broken equipment contributed to the initial fire and made it impossible to put out, while poor housekeeping allowed excessive amounts of explosive coal dust to accumulate.... They believe coal dust mixed with the methane to create a blast so powerful it turned 90-degree corners, rounded a 1,000-foot-wide block of coal and built enough force to kill men more than a mile away.
"Harvey disputed MSHA's findings point by point, challenging the scientific validity of samples.... Massey, Harvey said, had reached 'a different conclusion from the evidence'.... Reports on rock dusting from March 15, just 20 mining days before the blast, showed most of the mine was compliant, he said."
Most of the mine? That's like being a little bit pregnant. If part of the mine was out of compliance at the time of the explosion, how is that a good defensive argument?
I've taken exception on this blog many times to Massey Energy's approach to dealing with crises. This is just one more example of what can happen to companies that refuse to take ownership of their problems.
And, oh by the way, "Also on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Abingdon, Va.-based Alpha Natural Resources Inc. is nearing a deal to buy Massey for about $7 billion in cash and stock." I hope Alpha cleans house for the sake of Massey's key stakeholders, including those employees who work underground.
Friday, January 28, 2011
For a list of violations, check out Business Law Ebooks. “'It is appalling that our inspectors continue to find such egregious violations, especially with the explosion at Upper Big Branch still fresh in everyone’s minds,' said Joseph A. Main, assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health." Upper Big Branch, operated by Massey Energy, was the site of an explosion last April that killed 29 miners.
Business Law Ebooks lists too many violations for me to include here. (http://www.businesslawebook.com/2010/08/dangerous-mining-hazards-sighted/) Those "egregious violations" continue. MSHA announced yesterday it handed out 288 citations at 17 mines in December alone. That follows November, when MSHA issued 250 citations to 22 mines. MSHA and the Associated Press singled out Wilcoal by name.
"The Wilcoal mine was warned in November to improve its safety record or face stricter enforcement for exhibiting a pattern of violations. MSHA said it cited Wilcoal for more dust violations during January."
And guess what:
"Wilcoal did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment," said AP.
Coal dust is highly explosive and figured into the Upper Big Branch explosion. Nevertheless, Wilcoal's Tri-State One Mine in Tennessee reportedly had 24 inches of dust.
This is no way to run a coal mine or any other business. Fix your problems. Tell your key stakeholders what you've done. And be available to the news media to tell your story when asked. Otherwise, you're just asking for a crisis.
Massey Energy never got that message. We'll wait and see if Wilcoal learned its lesson yet. We may never know since the company doesn't even maintain a website.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
You can't prove a negative. To claim you are not racist is in the eye of the beholder. "Shai Warfield-Cross, 16, has performed the national anthem at sports events at Bloomington High School North over the last year without incident. But school officials said they received complaints about her performance during a game in Martinsville.
"Principal Jeff Henderson told The Herald-Times in a statement that people had complained that while the words to the anthem were the same, the tune was unrecognizable. He declined to comment to The Associated Press." (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=12778718)
You can listen for yourself at http://www.theindychannel.com/video/26627289/index.html.
According to ABC News, some people "said they felt the rendition was disrespectful to current and former members of the military, Henderson said." What the hey? Never mind my opinion or your own, this is still a crisis the school district must deal with.
The family wants the school to apologize. The story has become national news. "Khalil Muhammad, an Indiana University history professor, said he listened to a version of the anthem sung by Warfield-Cross on YouTube and concluded it was 'a fairly traditional rendition.' He noted that many artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Jose Feliciano, have put their own stamp on the song without significant controversy."
What is the impact on this child? "Warfield-Cross ... said she felt 'really confused' after the discussion. 'I felt bad, like I was doing something wrong,' she said."
I once had a boss who would hear one negative comment about the publication I edited and he told me to "fix it." That's what this story reminds me of. In any aspect of communications or public exposure, make sure not to react to a couple of comments. No one would tell the principal, "That girl's rendition of the national anthem was inspiring." People complain more than they compliment. That's why surveys are so important.
Don't take a knee-jerk response to a complaint or two. And ask yourself what negative ramifications could come as a result of your actions. In this case, true or not, there are racial ramifications. Don't let yourself be painted into a corner.
After a couple of decades in community relations in the chemical industry and several more in the nuclear business, I preach to whomever will listen to me about the importance of maintaining a positive image in the community. Larry said it better than I can.
"One of the most encouraging findings supports our strong belief that 'banked good will' is invaluable to any organization facing trouble. The Edelman report concluded that an organization going into a crisis with a reputation of distrust only needs a couple of negative news stories to convince the public you’re no good.
"The same study found that if you approach a crisis with a reputation of being a 'trusted' company, it only takes a couple of positive stories to turn the tide in your favor.
"Our conclusion continues to stress the importance of doing the right things for the right reasons."
Can I hear an "amen?" What are you doing to bank good will?
I've posted several times (most recently on December 26) about a scathing state audit of Passport Health Plan. The organization provides Medicaid services for more than 160,000 Kentucky residents. The audit said Executive Vice President Shannon Turner and Associate Vice President Nici Gaines (both have been fired) received large salaries, ate in expensive restaurants, and traveled extensively. Passport inappropriately spent money on lobbying, public relations, donations, and sponsorships. Passport, to its credit, has taken action as a result of the audit.
Now the Kentucky attorney general has reached agreement with the major Passport contractor who will pay $2 million for allegedly cheating. "The settlement with AmeriHealth Mercy Plan is the result of a nine-month investigation by the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Unit into alleged falsification of records by the company that entitled it to more than $677,000 in bonus money for good performance. (Attorney General Jack) Conway said the investigation centered on an allegation from a whistleblower that AmeriHealth falsely reported data to the state Medicaid Services Department on the number of Medicaid recipients who received cervical cancer screenings in 2009. The false numbers allowed AmeriHealth to receive the bonus money under the terms of its contract." (http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011301260140)
AmeriHealth, according to The Courier-Journal in Louisville, claimed "the company 'fully cooperated' in the investigation of what it called 'an isolated circumstance of inaccurate data reporting.' The company's statement said that the AmeriHealth employees responsible are no longer with the company. And AmeriHealth emphasized that the settlement 'does not in any way constitute an admission of wrongdoing.'"
I can't find such a release on the company's website. What I did find was, "The cost of fraud affects everyone. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that health care fraud costs consumers approximately $35 to $60 billion dollars annually. For employers, fraud increases the cost of providing benefits and their overall cost of doing business. This translates into higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs for employees. Report Fraud and Abuse.
"AmeriHealth helps to protect our members and providers from fraudulent and abusive practices through our Corporate and Financial Investigations Department, which has recovered or saved from fraud, waste, or abusive billing $5 million from January 1, 2005 to December 31, 2009. We owe much of our success to members, doctors and other providers who have been instrumental in reporting fraud."
An unhelpful website aside, AmeriHealth appears to have responded appropriately to this crisis. The responsible employees have been fired and the company agreed that "the state is entitled to triple damages in such cases," according to Conway. But it's another black eye to Passport. I don't know how many eyes it has left. The Press Center on Passport's website is all puppy dogs and butterflies. (http://www.passporthealthplan.com/news/index.aspx) But it's better than ignoring the issues of the state audit entirely.
Taco Bell responded on its website.(http://www.tacobell.com/company/newsreleasearticle/Statement-Regarding-Class-Action-Lawsuit) Greg Creed, president and chief concept officer (whatever that means), delivered this message on the website: "At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods. We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. Then we simmer it in our proprietary blend of seasonings and spices to give our seasoned beef its signature Taco Bell taste and texture. We are proud of the quality of our beef and identify all the seasoning and spice ingredients on our website. Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later -- and got their "facts" absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food."
Taco Bell claims that its meat is:
• 88% USDA-inspected quality beef
• 3-5% water for moisture
• 3-5% spices (including salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, sugar, garlic powder, cocoa powder and a proprietary blend of Mexican spices and natural flavors).
• 3-5% oats, starch, sugar, yeast, citric acid, and other ingredients that contribute to the quality of our product.
This response is better than Taco Bell's initial statement:"Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value. We're happy that the millions of customers we serve every week agree. We deny our advertising is misleading in any way and we intend to vigorously defend the suit."
That statement doesn't say much, but Taco Bell now seems to be responding appropriately to this attack. The past day or so, it's now providing numbers to counter the claims of the Alabama law firm leading the case. As the Taco Bell release begins, "The lawsuit is bogus and filled with completely inaccurate facts."
On the other side are websites such as Gizmodo, that writes "Taco Bell 'beef' pseudo-Mexican delicacies are really made of a gross mixture called 'Taco Meat Filling' as shown on their big container's labels, like the one pictured here. The list of ingredients is gruesome. Beef, water, isolated oat product, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, tomato powder, oats (wheat), soy lecithin, sugar, spices, maltodextrin (a polysaccharide that is absorbed as glucose), soybean oil (anti-dusting agent), garlic powder, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, caramel color, cocoa powder, silicon dioxide (anti-caking agent), natural flavors, yeast, modified corn starch, natural smoke flavor, salt, sodium phosphate, less than 2% of beef broth, potassium phosphate, and potassium lactate." http://gizmodo.com/5742413/this-is-what-really-hides-in-taco-bells-beef)
This is a crisis that will be fun to watch unfold. As for me, I don't care what's in tacos and burritos, as long as they taste good and don't make my stomach ache.
Fox news and other ultra-conservatives attacked ACORN two years ago. I blogged advice to CEO Bertha Lewis on October 6, 2009, "A Piece of Free Advice For ACORN." (http://crisisexperts.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2009-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&updated-max=2010-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=50), Lewis clearly didn't take my advice because the nonprofit declared bankruptcy in March 2010.
The last news release on ACORN's website claims, "ACORN has faced a series of well-orchestrated, relentless, well-funded right wing attacks that are unprecedented since the McCarthy era. Our effective work empowering African American and low-income voters made us a target. The videos were a manufactured, sensational story that led to rush to judgment and an unconstitutional act by Congress. For ACORN as a national organization, our vindication on the facts doesn't necessarily pay the bills."
ACORN's communications strategy involved attacking the news media and other "enemies." I wrote at the time, "You spoke to reporters at the National Press Club Tuesday about the well-documented indiscretion of a couple employees who were caught in a taped sting. You didn't stop there. You went on to blame the news media for your crisis. I've waded through dozens of news reports and can't find anything else of substance you have said in the past month....
"How does that help you get word out about all the wonderful things ACORN does and what you've done to deal with the events that began this torrent? Fighting Fox with reporters who agree with you isn't going to make this crisis go away. The Institute for Crisis Management defines news simply as "conflict." If there's no conflict, there's no news. Your PR people should be telling you to find ways to deliver your key messages to your key stakeholders. Identify your stakeholders -- it's not the media -- develop key talking points you want them to know, and then decide the best media to deliver your messages. A message of "Fox is a conservative and corporate shill," doesn't serve your interests."
I am sorry for ACORN's demise. But as a crisis communications consultant, I could see it coming. When you feel as if the media or politicians or donors are attacking you, don't fight back. Communicate the good things you do. You will never win a public battle with the news media. ACORN learned that lesson the hard way. Learn from that mistake.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
CNN today did a nice piece about the no-win situation Bobb is in and the devastating crisis that faces Detroit Public Schools. See http://money.cnn.com/video/news/2011/01/21/n_school_ceo_long.cnnmoney/.
I'm referring to a woman in California who has hired legal counsel in Alabama to sue Taco Bell because she claims the meat in its tacos is 35% meat. USDA requires 40% meat to be advertised as "beef."
"The lawsuit states that Taco Bell's beef products contain water, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodrextrin, anti-dusting agent, and modified corn starch." (http://www.huliq.com/10178/class-action-suit-casts-shadow-taco-bells-beef-menu) This woman must be a disgruntled former employee. Nevertheless, this will cost Taco Bell a nice chunk of change.
"Over 2 billion tacos and 1 billion burritos of all varieties are sold and served in Taco Bell restaurants a year. The lawsuit is estimated to cost in excess of $5 million dollars because it concerns Taco Bell franchises outside of its California headquarters as well as customers in states other than California."
Taco Bell said it would defend itself against the suit.
Friday, January 21, 2011
The Rooney family has a chance to make football history Sunday. The Steelers, who they own, already hold six Super Bowl trophies, more than any other team. They will play in their 15th AFC championship game, another record. I grew up near Pittsburgh during those glorious years when the Steelers won the Super Bowl four out of six years in the 1970s. They look to win their third in four years, if they can get past the Jets and the NFC champions.
At the controls is Ben Roethlisberger. He almost wasn't a Steeler this season after allegations of him raping a co-ed in Georgia and another woman in Lake Tahoe in 2009. Big Ben was never prosecuted in either case, but he was suspended by the NFL for the first four games this season. Most important, he violated the squeaky-clean standards set by the devoutly Catholic Rooney family.
"Even more outraged was the Steelers' ownership, led by president Art Rooney II, grandson of the late cigar-chomping, horse-playing team founder Art Rooney. The Steelers are one of the league's few mom-and-pop franchises.... For much of the elder Rooney's tenure, the Steelers were lovable losers. But just as Pittsburgh's iconic steel industry vaporized in the 1970s, the Steelers morphed into a decade-long powerhouse, winning four Super Bowls in six years, as well as a visceral loyalty among fans around the country (rivals Baltimore, Cleveland and Dallas excluded).
"The line between blue-collar town and blue-collar team vanished.
"'Pittsburghers were looking for a story that encapsulates who they are, and the Steelers have become that story,' says Maggie Patterson, co-author of Rooney: A Sporting Life. 'People all over the world have latched onto that sense of blue-collar strength, and proving yourself through actions rather than rhetoric.'
"It was with this prideful, close-knit culture that the sometimes ego-flaunting Roethlisberger, with his $102 million contract, found himself in conflict." (http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/01/21/steelers.roethlisberger.redemption/index.html?hpt=C1)
Most of us don't have someone in a leadership position with a public spotlight like Roethlisberger has. But we all have managers who are seen as the guiding star of leadership for our organizations. A misstep, or alleged misstep, may bring serious consequences. Steelers' fans were clamoring for Big Ben to be traded in the spring. If one of your top managers were guilty of a similar moral fumble, how would you respond? Is such a gaffe covered in your crisis communications plan? If not, it sure should be.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The latest news is being hailed as a smoking gun. A two-page letter, first revealed by the Irish broadcaster RTE and obtained by The Associated Press, tells bishops in Ireland to cover up child abuse within the church.
“'The Vatican is at the root of this problem,' said Colm O’Gorman, an outspoken victim of abuse in Ireland who is now director of Amnesty International there. 'Any suggestion that they have not deliberately and willfully been instructing bishops not to report priests to appropriate civil authorities is now proven to be ridiculous.'” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/19/world/europe/19vatican.html)
The letter that came to light was written on January 31, 1997, by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II's diplomat to Ireland, and was addressed to Ireland's Catholic bishops under a heading of "Strictly confidential." An advisory committee of Irish bishops had just drafted a new policy that included mandatory reporting of suspected abusers to civil authorities. But the letter said, "If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities. In particular, the situation of 'mandatory reporting' gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and canonical nature." (http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/world/Ireland-Catholic-Abuse.pdf)
Kim Michele Richardson, victim of abuse by clergy and the author of The Broken Child, had this to say on her blog. "David Clohessy, director The Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said, 'This may be the most devastating revelation yet showing Vatican complicity in child sex crimes and cover ups. It's bad enough that Catholic officials have a secretive, slow and corrupt internal process to deal with child predators. But it's worse when Catholic officials thwart an open, proven and effective external process to deal with child predators.'
"As a former orphan and survivor of devastating clergy abuse, I appeal to U.S. Bishops and members of the Vatican's hierarchy to also find the courage to come forward and disclose cover ups and the names of predator clergy and expunge the secrecy." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-michele-richardson/will-other-catholic-bisho_b_810762.html)
William F. McMurry, an expert legal advocate for abuse victims, wrote the foreword in Richardson's book. "In 1922 the Vatican sealed the fate of thousands of American children when it issued a secret written order requiring every Roman Catholic Bishop to keep the sexual abuse of children by clergy a Pontifical Secret. This secret decree, known as The Pontifical Secret, also made it a crime for priests to commit sexual abuse of minors.... The document is a reflection and written manifestation of the longstanding policies and directives of the Holy See regarding clerical sexual abuse, which impose this extreme level of secrecy not only on those within the Church who were to prosecute such cases but also on the document itself."
On June 12, 2010, I wrote a post about Pope Benedict's address to a large audience of priests. He acknowledged the sin and acknowledged "the abuse of the little ones." Acknowledging is one thing. Punishing those for past acts (not transferring the perpetrators) and implementing specific measures for prevention are separate issues the pope has yet to deal with.
In your dealings with crises that involve wrongdoings by managers and other employees, take a lesson from the Catholic church. Hiding evil deeds seldom works; someone will tattle-tale. Address the issue head on. Acknowledge the mistake. Say what your organization has done about it. Then tell what steps you are taking to prevent a recurrence.
The pope and the Catholic church have yet to take these steps. If they had, my Catholic in-law would still be attending mass.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
In case you are just joining us, Blankenship is the man who took a state supreme court judge on a tropical vacation, and later received a positive decision from that court. Blankenship once threatened to shoot a TV reporter if he didn't get off his property. (If you haven't yet, you've got to see this lesson in media relations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4Ym8qqR5vU) Blankenship led the company that operates Big Upper Branch Mine in West Virginia where 29 miners were killed last spring. And he headed a company that amassed thousands of safety violations resulting in millions of dollars in fines in 2010 alone.
Blankenship blamed government interference for the explosion at Big Upper Branch. The Mine Safety And Health Administration saw it otherwise yesterday following a detailed investigation. A small ignition of methane gas combined with a buildup of coal dust are what caused the explosion that killed the men, not a burst of gas from a crack in the mine floor that overwhelmed safeguards, as Massey claimed. (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-01-19/gas-coal-dust-to-blame-in-massey-energy-s-mine-blast-last-year-u-s-says.html) Massey's general counsel continues to contend it wasn't their fault.
It will be interesting to watch Massey during the next couple of years without Blankenship to see if there is a culture change in the way it does business and in the way it communicates. It has an opportunity, with Blankenship gone, to put safety first at its mines and put communicators in a prominent spot at the management table. Remember in The Wizard of Oz, how the flying monkeys did whatever the witch said, but after she melted, they weren't so evil after all? I hope Massey Energy's management people are like those flying monkeys.
The district recognizes its crisis and is taking action to solve it. I'm not so sure it is handling the communications aspect of its crisis very effectively. All I have to go on is the website, which boasts of academic achievements but says nothing regarding the sky about to fall. Perhaps the DPS communications people are putting together regular letters to the homes, hosting public forums, and holding editorial board meetings. But on the website: nada. (http://detroitk12.org/)
The media seem to be connecting the dots for the community. "The plan, part of a monthly update Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb gives the (Michigan) Department of Education, was filed late Monday to provide insight into Bobb's progress in his attempt to slash a $327 million deficit in the district to zero over the next several years. Under it, the district would slim down from 142 schools now to 72 during 2012-13." (http://detnews.com/article/20110112/SCHOOLS/101120356/1026/SCHOOLS/Without-aid--DPS-may-close-half-of-its-schools)
Columnist Nolan Finley wrote in the Detroit News on January 16 that Plan A is for the state to bail out DPS with $300 million. "I...have no doubt that he won't get it from a state with a $1.8 billion budget deficit and a long list of other collapsing school districts that would expect similar rescues." (http://detnews.com/article/20110116/OPINION03/101160304/1026/Column--Governor--tear-down-these-schools)
Plan B is to close 70 schools in 2012-2013. According to Detroit News, this would ultimately raise class sizes in 2013 to 31 for grades K-3; to 39 for grades 4-5; to 47 for grades 6-8; and to 62 for grades 9-12.
Keith Johnson, president of the teachers union, said the jump in class sizes will never happen. He said such a move would gut educational quality. Besides, the classrooms aren't even built to hold that many students. The fire marshall would be kept very busy.
Finley's editorial said the only way to fix DPS is to tear it down and start over. One possibility, Finley wrote, is to hire contractors to run each school independently. If a school misses its goals, a new contractor would be hired. Each school could hire and fire its own teachers and choose the services it wants from the district. It sounds a lot like the charter school approach. The best schools would be spun off with their existing staffs, while the worst would be closed and replaced. "This is not a takeover, but a liberation of students from a district steeped in failure."
The message here to crisis communicators is to involve parents, political leaders, and business in recreating a school district, which is deep in debt and with poor academic performance. Increasing class size helps the former but hurts the latter. Change in schools is always controversial and emotional. Giving stakeholders some say in the outcome will better ensure acceptance of decisions. The same applies to businesses, where cost-cutting is inevitable and input should be invaluable. I am a believer in advisory councils, and this crisis would be ideal for such an approach. I've seen well-run advisory councils make a real difference. The key word here is "well-run."
If someone connected to DPS reads this, please add a comment about ways you are communicating your financial crisis and involving stakeholders.
Monday, January 17, 2011
The company issued about 15 recall notices in 2010. (For more background, visit my posts on September 18 and October 31, 2010) The latest recall came January 16 when J and J, in consultation with FDA, recalled six varieties of Benadryl, 10 types of Sudafed, Sinutab, and 37 different types of Tylenol. The recall affects only products still in wholesalers' warehouses; products on the shelf are safe.
"The recall was due to a review of cleaning procedures of equipment that was either not properly documented or done insufficiently.... Although the latest Johnson and Johnson recall does not directly impact consumers, it may cause many to question the reliability and quality of the company’s products." (http://www.efitnessnow.com/news/2011/01/16/update-johnson-johnson-recalls-45-million-products)
CNN made an identical observation this morning. J and J's reputation, and therefore sales, is at stake. The New York Times, January 15, wondered in a headline, "Can Johnson and Johnson Get Its Act Together?" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/business/16johnson-and-johnson.html)
The Times article went on to say, "...another of J and J’s continuing problems: It must persuade millions of disappointed customers to once again pay a premium for products that may no longer seem to be of any higher quality than the less expensive store brand."
Remember that company whose response to the Tylenol tampering in 1982 became a case study for communicators? My memory is fading. J and J leaders seem to have total amnesia.
"YouGov BrandIndex, a market research firm that tracks consumer attitudes, says it has noticed a steady, albeit not steep, erosion over the last 18 months in how consumers perceive not just drug brands like Tylenol but also J and J. While many consumers are still loyal, says Ted Marzilli, a senior executive at the firm, the company needs to avoid death by a thousand cuts. 'They’ve really got to stop the bleeding,' Mr. Marzilli says. 'What the company really needs to do is not have any more recalls for six months, nine months, 12 months.'”
But that isn't happening. "In July, McNeil (a unit of J and J) submitted a plan to the F.D.A. detailing how it intends to overhaul its operations. To comply with regulatory standards, McNeil is undertaking thorough manufacturing and quality-control reviews for all its products, (Spokeswoman Bonnie) Jacobs says. That means the recalls may continue. Last Thursday, Ms. Jacobs said the company would 'take whatever steps are needed to ensure our products meet quality standards, including further recalls if warranted.'"
What has the company done, you ask, to communicate that message? Nothing at all on its website. (http://www.jnj.com/connect/) Instead, there are pictures of smiling people who apparently owe their health to J and J's responsible production practices. There is no news release about any recall on the "news" page. (http://www.jnj.com/connect/news/all) For me, anyway, the whole site doesn't ring true.
Maybe the company isn't "out there" because, as the Times noted, the recalls and drop in confidence has done little to affect the bottom line because J and J is so enormous. Maybe it's because, according to the Times, "Consumers have typically been willing to forgive a brand for one incident or product problem, industry analysts say, if a company acts swiftly to rectify the situation and to issue an apology." So if we hide, maybe most people won't notice how many times our products have been recalled.
Whatever the reason, J and J doesn't appear to be taking advantage of the media at its disposal. It may share its messages with reporters when asked or with curious board members, shareholders, and analysts. But what about the microbiologist at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern, who said he is considering going back to generics? Or what about the blogger in Silver Spring, Maryland, who wrote a post last spring, “Makers of Tylenol, I’m Disappointed in You”?
Too bad it can't be 1982 again.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Story 1. A 14-year-old girl made friends with a 19-year-old man over the internet. He was kind, charming, and flattered her. She couldn't wait to meet her new friend. "Prosecutors say (Jonathan) Leanos met the alleged victim on MySpace over the summer and had met her several times before Saturday." (http://www.wgntv.com/news/wgntv-stickney-gang-rape-charges-jan13,0,5544440.story) It was Saturday when the alleged rape occurred. Leanos and his three buddies allegedly took turns. These guys are so dumb they used their cell phones to record each other in the act.
"The girl's parents brought her to the police on Saturday to report the incidents soon after the suspects dropped her off near her southwest suburban home.... Richard Jaczak of the Stickney Police says it's 'very alarming to see what occurred -- and not only the fact that it occurred, but they decided to film it and retain those films.'"
Come on, kids (and adults too). People can portray themselves any way they want to on Facebook, MySpace, and all the others. Never agree to meet with these people -- unless, maybe, it's in a very public place every time. No exceptions.
Story 2. Glen Busch was director of the Chicago chapter of Coats for Kids ever since he and his wife started the nonprofit in 2005. As of Sunday, he no longer works for Coats for Kids because of comments he made on Facebook regarding the Tucson shootings.
One comment read, "'This was not a political thing, it was a psychotic thing. This kid was nuts! Now lets drop the ink wars and pray for the families. Maybe apologize in public just like your accusations as well?'"
And another: "'Now that we know that this kid was an extreme socialist and democrat, does that change some of the opinions? Guys look, this is not political, he's just crazy. I do not hold liberals responsible for this now that the facts are known.'" (http://www.wgntv.com/search/wgntv-man-fired-over-facebook-jan12,0,1795046.story)
Paul Darby, the president of the national chapter of Coats for Kids, said the comments were "too radical and political."
Busch doesn't feel like the firing was justified. "'We don't even have a policy. I was just amazed.'"
Darby and a lawyer wrote, "'As a public non-profit foundation, it is essential that we not become involved in public controversy, either in support or in opposition of an issue or cause. You have every right to make whatever comments that you wish as a citizen. We support that right as Americans. Unfortunately, your name is clearly associated with the Coats for Kids Foundation and the activities by the Foundation in Chicago.'"
Okay, but to fire the guy without reprimanding him first when there's no policy in place? It seems extreme. What would Darby have done to Sarah Palin and her "blood libel?"
Beyond whether the punishment fit the crime, this is a good lesson in posting controversial comments -- even a little controversial. Another lesson learned is to put a policy in place and then communicate it clearly from time to time. And another thing this should tell us as managers is not to overreact, especially when no standards exist.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
She wrote about a manufacturing company's plan to expand its warehouse. "The plan was to build a new warehouse and improve shipping times. Excited executives announced the move on the company’s website and its blog. They posted on Facebook and tweeted about the new expansion on Twitter.
"As the day for the big move approached, they told customers about potential shipping delays, but said they’d return with better service than ever.
"On the first day, several men wearing the uniforms of a well-known logistics company showed up to help with the move. With dozens of legitimate workers swarming around the site, they blended in easily and no one questioned them as they loaded equipment into their own van. They drove off before anyone realized they were interlopers."
The thieves stole more than $1 million in equipment and inventory. "Like this manufacturing company, users of social media often encounter the law of unintended consequences: a company gets excited about one aspect of social media without realizing the possible side effects. This can be particularly true for employees who use social media and put your company at risk without even realizing it."
Another risk to personal and business planning is phishing, which involves tricking people into divulging passwords and bank account numbers. I got such an e-mail just today. It was from AT&T wanting to verify my e-mail address. I deleted it right away. If AT&T really needed to reaffirm my e-mail address, why would it send an e-mail to me?
Gosselin quoted James Carnall, deputy director of the Cyber Intelligence Division at Cyveillance. "To avoid being fooled, he suggests being skeptical of messages that could have been sent to anyone... He also says to be especially wary of clicking on links, especially those with shortened URLs. 'You could go somewhere that downloads binary code onto your computer,' he notes."
Gosselin said one radical approach to protect your business is to not use social media at all. Other companies require approval for tweets, e-mails, and Facebook when they write something about their employers, but that sounds cumbersome to me.
Most companies that use social media as a necessary tool for marketing teach users about the risks. In addition, every company needs a social media policy.
"'Any company that doesn’t have an updated and well-communicated social media usage policy is inviting disaster,' says Dallas Lawrence, managing director of digital strategy for Burson-Marsteller. 'Rather than a strict code of ‘what not to do,’ smart companies are developing ‘how-to’ policies that embrace the reality that employees will engage in online activities. They provide guidelines for what is appropriate to discuss about the company and their work life.'"
A 17-year-old student was suspended from Millard South High School in Omaha last week. He returned with a gun and killed the assistant principal and seriously injured the principal. He turned the gun on himself in his car.
An isolated incident? Not at all. According to a New York Times op-ed piece, school shootings are so common that we only hear about the "big" ones.
"In 2010, there were at least 15 shootings at educational institutions from elementary to college level, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. While not all resulted in injuries, some did. In one shooting last February at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colo. — the same town at which the massacre at Columbine High School took place — a man shot and injured two students....
"The public’s attention quickly turns away, while the gun lobby keeps pushing more outlandish strategies to expand the threatening presence of guns in society. For example, a lawsuit filed in September and supported by the National Rifle Association is challenging the longstanding federal law prohibiting licensed gun dealers from selling handguns to anyone under 21 years old." (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/08/opinion/08sat4.html?src=twrhp)
Tougher gun control laws won't do much to keep guns out of the hands of kids and crazies. That's just one of a dozen or so reasons why you must have a crisis plan and a crisis communications plan in place. Every school practices with fire drills. They need to practice communicating during a crisis as well.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
"The 800-mile-long Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) is one of the world's largest pipeline systems. Starting in Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, TAPS stretches through rugged and beautiful terrain to Valdez, the northernmost ice-free port in North America. Since pipeline startup in 1977, Alyeska - TAPS' operator - has successfully transported more than 16 billion barrels of oil." (http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/Default.asp)
According to CNBC this morning, the Alyeska pipeline transports 17% of all U.S. oil (15% according to Alyeska's web site). But not today. "The pipeline remains shut down today (January 8) as responders from Alyeska, contractors, and state and federal agencies work toward safely and responsibly returning the pipeline to service." (http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/Inthenews/LatestNews/2011/PS1incident/PressRelease3_PS1.html)
"Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. during the weekend shut down the Trans-Alaska pipeline when workers found oil leaking at a pump station on the North Slope. The company called on British energy company BP to cut output by 95 percent, sending shock waves through the commodity market. The company said the spill was minor, with about 10 barrels -- around 420 gallons -- of oil recovered from the site. Katie Pesznecker, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, told Bloomberg News that Alyeska is preparing to build an alternative route but she said she wasn't 'going to speculate' on when the 800-mile pipeline would return to service. (Good for Katie to not speculate!)
"Refiners on the western U.S. coast said the closure of the Trans-Alaska pipeline didn't interrupt service much, though crude oil and gasoline prices rose in the wake of the shut down." (http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Resource-Wars/2011/01/11/Trans-Alaska-pipeline-could-get-bypass/UPI-43731294756023/)
A consortium of five companies (including our friends at BP) own Alyeska. All of them and the folks employed at Alyeska have their hands full with this crisis. The Institute for Crisis Management was called in by Alyeska following the Exxon Valdez mess. I hope the company is relying on crisis communications experts this time, too. The communications people seem to have a lot on the ball. The web site even includes key stakeholders, which many companies never identify, even internally. (http://www.alyeska-pipe.com/aboutus/POL-001_Corporate%20Policies%20and%20Code%20of%20Conduct.pdf)
Monday, January 10, 2011
But do you even have a plan for weather-related crises? Here in Louisville, we went through a year with a windstorm, an ice storm, and rain storm. All knocked off power and caused transportation problems. If your products can't get out and your raw materials can't get in, what crisis communications plan do you have in place? If your plan doesn't include a weather-related contingency, you better revise it right away. And if your crisis communications plan is still just a glimmer in someone's eye, you need to get moving. You never know when mother nature -- or another some dozen crises -- will disrupt your business.
Six Victims, Including a Member of Congress and a Little Girl Shot in Tucson; What If It Happened To Your Coworker?
What kind of a nut perpetrates such an atrocity? He isn't the last nut out there. Does your crisis plan include response if one of your employees, manager or not, is killed in a highly publicized spectacle as this one? How will you deal with the family, what do you say to the media? Such a tragedy doesn't have to happen on your property. If it happens anywhere, including a supermarket, are you prepared to respond?
Saturday, January 8, 2011
"(Annette) Bongiorno, who spent 40 years working for Madoff, faces 75 years in prison if convicted for her alleged role in the nation's largest financial rip-off. The secretary-turned-accused scammer was free on house arrest at her $1.3 million Boca Raton home when the judge revoked her bail just before Christmas." (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ny_crime/2011/01/07/2011-01-07_bernard_madoffs_former_secretary_annette_bongiorno_will_soon_go_free_after_judge.html)
A $1.3 million home? For a secretary? The lesson in crisis communications we can learn from Madoff and Bongiorno may be a cliche, but: Crime doesn't pay.
If you expect to have a crisis at work, at least be sure it doesn't involve children or animals. Such crises will sink a large ship.
Take, for example, the case of Metro Animal Services in Louisville, Kentucky. See my post on October 30, 2009, for the ugly details. This goes to show what happens if you try to ignore a crisis, whether you work for a government agency, a privately owned business, or a publicly traded organization. In short, the former director, Gilles Miloche, was fired because:
* He had two sexual harassment charges against him. His interim replacement also was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit, but was made interim director anyway.
* He dispensed medication to non-veterinarians and illegally euthanized kittens.
* A state audit released in March, 2010 noted that animal services did not take daily inventories and that 134 animals were unaccounted for in May 2009.
* A city audit found that there was mismanagement between Animal Services and a nonprofit adoption agency.
* Under Meloche’s tenure, the department also was accused of seizing animals improperly and was criticized for its handling of animals during an August 2009 flash flood, in which several animals drowned. (http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011301070103)
The fact that interim director Wayne Zelinsky was also named in the sexual harassment suit apparently didn't make any difference to former mayor Jerry Abramson. New mayor Greg Fischer has called for a review of Animal Services and a nationwide search for a new director.
Duh! Why was that so hard to see coming? Most crises are obvious on Monday morning. Our job, as crisis communications managers, is to see the threat on Saturday and fix it before Monday. Louisville's city management must have missed that lesson.
But nowhere on the Sugarloaf resort's website can I find mention of the ski lift that broke down last week, sending eight to the hospital and stranding dozens for an hour or so until they could be rescued. Sugarloaf is 120 miles north of Portland, Maine.
"The resort said the lift, which went into service in 1975 and recently passed an inspection, was set for upgrades or repairs, but declined to specify when. About five chairs fell 25 to 30 feet onto a ski trail below, officials said." (http://www.telegram.com/article/20101229/NEWS/12290532/1052/news01)
The lift was scheduled to be replaced because of its vulnerability to wind. The wind was gusting at 40 mph the day the lift failed.
This was a smoldering crisis that the Sugarloaf management failed to address. It would have been better to shut the lift down than risk operating it in high winds. Let this be a reminder to all of us. It saves money in the long run to cease operations or recall products than to continue running with duct tape and baling twine.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
"Whatever you do, there are two certainties you are facing in the New Year. You will depend more than ever on computers and social media, and you face a greater than ever chance that someone will hack into your business or organization and do major damage to your reputation and your bottom line.
"Bob Sullivan writes the Red Tape Chronicles for MSNBC.Com (http://redtape.msnbc.com/2010/12/ten-things-web-users-should-fear-in-2011.html) and he has identified 10 things web users should fear in the New Year."
Check out Sullivan's warnings and Larry's blog.
- December 30, 2010 - Drive Total Energy issues a voluntary recall of Rock Hard Extreme and Passion Coffee dietary supplements.
- December 30, 2010 - PRock Marketing, LLC, issues a voluntary nationwide recall of all weight loss formulas and variation of formulas of Reduce Weight Fruta Planta/Reduce Weight Dietary Supplement.
- December 30, 2010 - The Ritedose Corporation Announces the voluntary nationwide recall of 0.083% Albuterol Sulfate Inhalation Solution, 3 ml, due to mislabeled unit dose vials.
- December 30, 2010 - Cumberland Pharmaceuticals announces voluntary recall of Acetadote® Vials.
- December 29, 2010 - Tiny Greens Organic Farm Food Co. recalls product because of possible health risk.
- December 28, 2010 - Mexicantown Wholesale issues allergy alert for undeclared milk in cuernos (croissants).
- December 24, 2010 - Whole Foods Market announces a recall for ginger bread houses which were produced by Rolf’s Patisserie in 23 states because of a possible health risk. (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm238495.htm)
"Among its provisions, the bill gives the federal Food and Drug Administration the authority to issue direct recalls of foods that are suspected to be tainted, rather than relying on individual producers to issue recalls voluntarily. Currently, the FDA can negotiate with companies, but has no power to enact a mandatory recall." (http://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/01/04/obama.food.safety/index.html)
Sunday, January 2, 2011
Small police and sheriff departments often aren't prepared for shootings of fellow officers. It doesn't happen often -- the last Clark County law enforcement officer shot in the line of duty was in 1978; the last before that was in 1959. (http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/crime/deputy-responded-to-report-of-shots-fired-1043657.html) But that doesn't excuse small departments from having a crisis plan in place.
Such a plan for law enforcement should include procedures for notifying families of those injured in accidents, and a different approach when people are killed. It needs to list counseling resources for police officers and for families. The plan needs to contain information about what to say to the media and when to release information. What follow-up services will the police and counselors provide to be sure families are financially cared for? All this needs to be in writing, communicated, and practiced. Dayton police have such written guidelines in place.
My father-in-law, the mayor of Beaver Falls, listened to our discussion of the Springfield shootings and said he would check with the city's police department to be sure written crisis procedures are in place. "It's a matter of when, not if," my brother-in-law told him.
The same applies to fire departments. They need to have written policies in place for notifying next-of-kin, whether it's for an injured civilian, injured firefighter, or a fatality. Three years ago, my sister from Idaho got married in Grove City, Pennsylvania. Another sister's husband is a volunteer firefighter for Pine Township, which completely surrounds Grove City. The day before I arrived for the wedding, a young firefighter died battling a house fire. Pine should have had written policies in place to inform and comfort family. I don't know if counseling was available to Pine Township firefighters, but I know they supported each other. I was in town for four days and never even saw my brother-in-law. He even missed the wedding. My sister, his wife, who regularly supports emergency responders in Grove City, spent all day at the station organizing food donations and almost missed setting up for the reception. Yet during the initial hours, I'm not sure anyone with a level head was available to communicate to the right people in a timely, sensitive way.
Valerie Lough of the Dayton Daily News wrote about the New Year's shooting, which left one officer dead and another wounded, “'We are a family, this hurts us all,' said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly. 'It’s just been a tragedy for this entire community.'”
Emergency responders should keep families of victims in mind as well as their own. That means a written plan that spells out policies for handling personal crises. Being prepared can save chaos, confusion, and emotional paralysis.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Not a single business is free from crises, although some seem to think they are. Take retailers, for example. I would be interested in knowing how many of them have an effective crisis plan in place. I would be surprised if it was more than .1%.
Everyone is vulnerable, and that includes retailers and restaurants. The latest example is William C. Franks furniture store near Detroit, which suffered an explosion on December 29. Two employees were killed, a passerby in a car was injured, and the store's owner, son of founder William, remains hospitalized in critical condition . (http://www.justicenewsflash.com/2010/12/30/suburban-detroit-furniture-store-explosion_201012306581.html) The store didn't have a website, so I can say with near certainty there was no crisis plan or even the semblance of one. With the owner hospitalized, I wonder who is in charge. Who is making sure the victims' families' needs are being met? I see no quotes from the store's staff in news coverage, which means the store lost its opportunity to express sympathy. Instead, emergency response people essentially speak for the retailer.
If you think a crisis can't happen to you just because you don't handle hazardous materials, think again. Authorities are fairly certain William C. Franks' explosion was caused by a gas leak. Paul Franks never saw it coming. Headlines about others who didn't expect crises include:
* Four hurt in store roof collapse on Far South Side (Chicago; www.chicagobreakingnews.com/.../4-hurt-in-store-roof-collapse-on-far-south-side.html)
* Shopper Describes Store's Roof Collapse (Family Dollar; Jacksonville; www.news4jax.com/news/24687196/detail.html)
* Fire Ravages Fairburn Retail Center (Atlanta; www.myfoxatlanta.com/.../news/Fire-Ravages-Fairburn-Retail-Center-021110)
* Terrorists Target Buffets, Considered Poisoning Food (http://allmediany.com/details_news_article.php?news_artid=479 )
* Two killed in Arizona strip club shooting(http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2010/12/28/two_killed_in_arizona_strip_club_shooting/)
I could go on and on, but you get the idea: A crisis can strike anytime, anywhere. If you are in a business where you consider yourself a low risk, reconsider. A crisis plan, including communications responses for fires and explosions, roof collapses, shootings, and embezzlement to name a few, will prepare your business for the worst. Doing so will put you in better position to recover quicker, deal compassionately with victims and families, (often preventing law suits), retain employees, and talk to media. A crisis communications plan is well worth the time and expense. Just ask any manager/owner referenced above.